Reading a scientific paper is a completely different process from reading an article about science in a blog or newspaper. Not only do you read the sections in a different order than they are presented, but you also have to take notes, read it multiple times, and probably go look up other papers in order to understand some of the details. Reading a single paper may take you a very long time at first, but be patient with yourself. The process will go much faster as you gain experience.
The type of scientific paper discussed here is referred to as a primary research article. It is a peer-reviewed report of new research on a specific question (or questions). Most articles will be divided into the following sections: abstract, introduction, methods, results, and conclusions/interpretations/discussion.
- Begin by reading the introduction, not the abstract.
- Identify the big question.
- Summarize the background in five sentences or less.
- Identify the specific question(s).
- Identify the approach.
- Read the methods section.
- Read the results section.
- Determine whether the results answer the specific question(s).
- Read the conclusion/discussion/interpretation section.
- Go back to the beginning and read the abstract.
- Find out what other researchers say about the paper.